Friday, May 04, 2012

Meme-literate law professor (insert punchline here)

Keynote: Jonathan Zittrain (Berkman Center for Internet and Society)
Internet memes: not real life?  Idea of the lone wolf/internet as zone of retreat—the problem is them, not us.  Response: base of lot of memes is some authentic, unguarded, involuntary moment around which artifice is added.  Not all memes (dramatic chipmunk/hamster), but many.  That is what makes a meme appealing: authenticity is about internet memes having a powerful relation to “real life”—e.g., socially awkward penguin.  “We” may not be a majority, but our experiences are still human and understandable.  Crossed wires: if there’s inappropriate commercialization.  E.g., Hot Topic made a “Fu Rage Meme” T-shirt, sparking a protest; the CEO had no idea what the problem was.  One aspect of the protest: let’s “make” the underlying meme racist, so that Hot Topic could be accused of being racist.  Poisoning the meme.  Is this ironic?  Is this real anger?  The answer is yes!
Online: has displaced most, though not all, real-world gatherings with uncommercial flavor.  Commercialization of comic cons: it’s about paying to get your photo taken with the cast, then waiting on line for the photo, then waiting on line for the print to be maid.  Commercialization is a tricky business: people don’t want to be prompted to work in a particular meme.  Thus, most popular memes are unstaged.  But that means there are real people behind the pictures, and that has issues of its own.  Numa Numa guy: inadvertent success; put up for people to see, but not this many!  A lottery: winning it seems good in advance, but has a bunch of downsides.  Star Wars kid: didn’t even consent to put it online. Turns to the court system; now he’s notable on Wikipedia.  But there is a question about whether or not to name him, which is precisely what he didn’t want.  Ultimately: decided not to name him, though he was named in some media outlets.  His real name is all over the talk page, but in the front page, any mention of his real name would be removed immediately.  Interesting that many people who wanted to name him accepted the ultimate decision through Wikipedia’s byzantine dispute resolution process: procedural legitimacy worked!
Would like to see “image removed at request of owner” as an option not of law but of etiquette: creator or subject of data object should be able to declare something about his/her relationship to it and urge people, if he/she’s of a mind, to do or not do something with it.  This would not be DRM, but would be like robots.txt.  Not a legal claim (RT says: though it easily gets encoded in law—see Field v. Google).  A camera could default to understand the no-photo tag, which could be worn, and let the photographer make a choice whether or not to respect it. 
Privilege-denying dude (sadly, audience seemed unfamiliar): Corbis stock photo model.  But model objected to becoming the subject.  Another guy stepped forward to volunteer in his stead.  That might be an interesting model—when you voluntarily offer yourself for the greater good.
Suggests there may be a creep from online viewing to online participation to standard political participation.  Even if you had a room full of people who ordinarily don’t do internet memes, they could understand “This is why we can’t have nice things” superimposed over a picture of Congress.  Perceived threat = perceived license to go political.  Wikileaks as an example.  Online, Wikileaks was hit by DDOS attacks; anonymous did attacks “in return” using the “low orbit ion cannon”—was this serious or ironic/to take authority down a peg?  Yes.  When you aren’t part of this world, to hear “a group of people wearing masks is attacking the internet” is not necessarily funny.  A non-ironic website destruction tool would feel harder to use: irony lends it part of the power that’s not understood by the rest of the world. 
What is the relation to people who depend on authority/power?  How vulnerable is that system to actions/ideas generated in part by the idea of poking fun?  The Great Dictator was deemed highly threatening at the time, for fear of angering the Nazi regime. 
What if you have a wake for a person who died (really) in a game, and another guild comes in and kills everyone at the wake: is this unethical?  The people holding the wake were trying to recognize the people behind the characters, but there were other people who wanted to preserve the game-character of the environment and put a value on “it’s just a game” as well.  There’s a reason we have escapism.
Is this type of activity something you do for a time, then move on, even as the phenomenon persists?  Grow up/put away childish things.  C.S. Lewis: I put away the fear of childishness—fear of not being grown up may be a childish fear.  Owning who you are: that’s who I am.  That’s the least ironic thing to do.  Funny that we do it in an ironic way: difference is ok.  May be best against the unfunny cynicism of our main institutions: religious, media, institution—such deeply embedded cynicism that even individual members don’t feel they can escape.  Can the CEO of Fox News change it?  In this environment, the actual subversive move is random acts of kindness, as in reddit’s sub board.  Make people’s lives better one person at a time.

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